About those biased Oscar Nominations | The Jackal

17 Jan 2020

About those biased Oscar Nominations

There’s been a lot written about the 2020 Oscar Nominations and their apparent lack of diversity. It’s true, there are in fact no women nominated for the Best Director and very few nominees of colour across the board. But is this a result of a biased process or a symptom of a sickness pervading many aspects of the Hollywood movie industry?

Of course this all blew up a few years ago, with the upshot being that the Oscars would work towards a more inclusive ceremony. But you apparently can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Numerous prominent people have criticised the selection process and those involved have felt compelled to defend their decisions.

On Wednesday, Stephen King tweeted:

Yesterday, The NZ Herald reported:

Stephen King criticized for comments on diversity 
Admirers of King, an outspoken liberal, were disheartened by his comments. Author Roxane Gay tweeted that "as a fan, this is painful to read. 
"It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous," Gay wrote. "They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic. And now, here you are." 
Director Ava DuVernay tweeted: "When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed."

So are the Oscars really to blame for a lack of diversity?

You only have to look at movies like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood to realise that their selection process is complicit in promoting association over substance. The shock value of Quentin Tarantino’s offering is prominent in this retelling of the Manson murders. However the chalk and cheese fictional take on historical events, although mostly well shot, adds very little to the art form with a stellar cast really being this films only redeeming feature.

It should be noted that Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the first Tarantino movie to not utilise the “services” of sexual predator/producer Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino even seems to contradict the perverse nature of Hollywood with a scene where a stunt double, played by Brad Pitt, doesn’t take advantage of an apparently underage girl, played by 26-year-old Margaret Qualley. It’s almost as if Tarantino is trying to absolve himself from years of guilt by association.

Actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt with Director Quentin Tarantino

The all white mostly male dominated cast works through their lines professionally and generally carries this movie, but at times even they seem annoyed with the script. Perhaps it’s the often unending and unrealistic dialogue or numerous retakes that make it slightly clunky, but there’s no question that 10 nominations is excessive for a movie that's simply going through the motions and appears to be signalling Tarantino’s retirement.

We must therefore conclude that the Oscars selection process is somewhat biased towards movies that are produced by, and mainly employ, white males. It should also be noted that Hollywood appears to have run out of stories to tell. They’re now relying on remaking movies selected from a past that was also dominated by white males.

In recognition of this, Kyle Buchanan for the New York Times writes:

The homogeneous group of gatekeepers that came before us still affects so much of what we consider worthy of canonization.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. However there is a flip side to the argument that nominations must be diversified simply to provide an appearance of equality.

Many of those arguing for increased inclusiveness are in praise of a movie called Hustlers, starring the seemingly ageless Jennifer Lopez. This is where Stephen King is right to say he selects on quality and not diversity. Overly reliant on sex appeal, Hustlers tediously goes over the same old ground twice and culminates in a lacklustre montage that confirms the directors derivative skill-set. Despite its obvious flaws, Hustlers was somewhat of a box office success, leading many to question why the B grade movie wasn't selected.

Here is a pretty generic tweet about the issue by writer E. Alex Jung:

It's amazing just how many commentators argue that a movie about striptease artists drugging businessmen to empty their bank accounts is somehow worthy of an award.

Hustlers basically tells a story we’ve all seen before but in an unimpressive way. To promote such a forgetful film simply because it stars females of varying ethnicities will do little if anything to increase equality within the film industry.

Likewise, gender role reversal in movies doesn’t really work if it’s simply being done to promote inclusivity instead of providing any real increase to a movies artistic value.

The problem of sexism and racism in Hollywood goes far deeper than just the Oscars. These issues are entrenched in the way movies are made but can mainly be attributed to screenplay selection by big name producers and film studios predominated by men.

The Oscars are just the last cab off the rank when it comes to a lack of diversity within filmmaking. Unfortunately a testosterone driven industry will always try to tell stories it identifies with and until the old-school male movie moguls are culled from their positions of power, nothing will ever really change.